by Dorothy Greco
One Sunday morning in October it became clear that after fifteen years of service to our church, it was time for my husband to hand in his resignation. Though we had seen this coming, the realization gutted us.
Five months later, he packed up his office and we said a tearful goodbye to the congregation. He was now not simply without a job. We were without a community. Without the surrogate aunts and uncles who had loved on our kids. Without the friends we had prayed for, cried with, and walked alongside.
These were not our only losses.
Three days prior to that pivotal Sunday morning, we buried my mother-in-law. She died in her mid-seventies after a lightening quick battle with pancreatic cancer. Within the next few months, my father and two other close relatives were also diagnosed with cancer. Additionally, though we didn’t know it at the time, our eldest son had just spent his last summer with us. Two years later, he would be married and living in the midwest. Launching a child is not nearly the same as losing a parent, but it is a loss nonetheless.
And then there was the toll all of this took on our prayer lives. Prior to how that autumn unfolded, my husband and I had an ongoing dialogue with God. We had always sensed his nearness and affection for us. In this season, it was as if we lost our Wi-Fi connection mid conversation. Perhaps our doubts and uncertainties became like static, drowning out God’s voice. Perhaps our sorrows temporarily rendered us deaf.
We’ve been on this faith journey long enough to know that Why? is not the right question in these circumstances. We neither blamed God nor saw ourselves as blameless. However, because our intense need to understand what happened coincided with feeling disconnected from God, we both felt bereft and insecure. We retreated—from each other and from God—as a form of self-protection.
All of this happened seven years ago. Prayer has never returned to what it had been. We’re certainly not the first to go through what others have called a dark night of the soul. (And it’s never just a night. If we could trust the coming dawn, it wouldn’t feel so dark.)
Lately I’ve begun to wonder: are there times when God’s seeming silence is actually an indication of his trust in us? Is this what it means to grow up? Is God walking us to the school bus stop, giving us a kiss, and saying, “Have a good day. You’ll do fine,” knowing that though we’ll feel the pain of separation, we will, in fact, do just fine.
Part of aging is growing comfortable with paradox. We have to accept that though we’re incredibly wise, there’s so much we don’t know. We have to find peace with the reality that the confidence we feel today might morph into doubt and uncertainty tomorrow.
Maybe one of the most seminal lessons of midlife is that the opposite of loss is not gain but discovery. For it’s only since we left the comfort and safety of that church that we’ve learned how brave we are—and how desperately we need God. Maybe all of midlife is both and. Maybe I’m OK with that.
Cover photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash.
Paradox, uncertainty, mystery. The hallmarks of mid-life, if we are blessed to live that long, and if we listen. Thank you for sharing the wisdom.
Agreed. The slowing down to listen and learn is a huge component of what I think we’re supposed to get out of midlife. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?
Wonderful, indeed, to move through the often mindless busyness of “doing” into the slow depth of “being.”
I’m going through the same in fact, I wrote a similar piece on my story. Aging is a whole new chapter of life, and until now I never gave it much thought. I think it’s because in our brain we are always thinking young!
It is totally a new chapter. That’s a great way to describe it because it’s not the beginning, and hopefully, not the end but it sets up the end which is why how we navigate is so important. Blessings.
I too went through a period in my 60s where God seemed so very far away. It surprised me and scared me at the same time. My counselor posited that the grief and pain of my losses were clouding him out, much like fog obscures the stars still brightly shining in the sky. My ”work” was to continue my work through the pain and loss. I felt he held my faith for me during that time. Held out the real hope I would “see” God again. I have, and like many of us have discovered,it might look a little different and at the same time closer to Jesus in new rich ways.
I love this: “like many of us have discovered,it might look a little different and at the same time closer to Jesus in new rich ways.” Thanks so much for weighing in!
Dorothy, the image of the school bus is going to stay with me, because it illustrates so well the love of God for us as his “adult” children.
Glad to hear it worked for you. I did worry that it might imply God “leaving” us, but He’s staying put and we’re going in the illustration. Thanks for reading.
“Lately I’ve begun to wonder: are there times when God’s seeming silence is actually an indication of his trust in us?” Such an interesting thought…especially when in side I have so little confidence in myself…I’d rather NOT enter the school bus! I’ll be thinking ruminating of this image for some time, I think…thank you for sharing part of your story!
Thanks for reading and may the Lord increase your confidence in his ability to provide for your every need.
One traditional understanding of the “dark night” is that it allows us to discover whether our faith is in God or in our experiences of God. And whether we are faithful to what God calls us to or to the “consolations” (rewarding spiritual experiences) we sometimes gain when doing that work. No easy pathway here. (From experience!) Peace and strength.
I agree Carlene. That process of discovery is so often fraught with insecurity, doubt, and even fear. At least in my experience! Thanks for weighing in.
Thanks for your thoughts as always, Dorothy. I appreciate your wondering if God lets us feel God’s absence at the school bus as a way to show His trust in us. I do think so, but I think it’s important to specify *what* He wants to trust in us. I think many folks think God wants to trust us to be more independent, saying, “you’re a big kid now, so you can do this on your own and check back with me.” In contrast, I think God wants to trust that we will trust Him in the absence of a felt presence. I sense God saying, “Can you trust me as well even without the bells and whistles that ‘prove’ I am still here with you? If I give you no tangible evidence of my presence, can you still trust Me to keep my promise to always be right here with you?”
In other words, I believe that God is never away from us. Rather, God is always more closely present with us then we our with ourselves. At the same time, it is easier to confuse trust in tangible blessings and “answered prayers” (i.e., good times) with actual faith in God’s character. In contrast, faith/trust in God—in the absence of a felt presence or a clearly answered prayer—is an even deeper faith, faith in “the evidence of things not seen.” As Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen [any tangible evidence that I am alive] and yet have believed.”